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Friday, March 15, 2024

Seventh Circuit Rules Fired Clerk Not Entitled to New Trial

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected new trial request in a lawsuit brought by a former employee against a city clerk. Artis v. Santos

In January 2016, a city clerk asked a junior clerk to volunteer for two political campaigns, and the junior clerk declined. In February 2016, the city clerk fired the junior clerk, stating that the reason was the clerk's previous felony conviction for stealing public funds. The junior clerk then sued the city clerk claiming the termination was retaliation against his refusal to volunteer for the political campaigns in violation of his First Amendment free speech rights. A jury ruled in favor of the city clerk, and the junior clerk appealed.

On appeal the Seventh Circuit considered four issues:

1) whether the trial court improperly admitted expert witness testimony;

2) whether the trial court improperly allowed an allegedly biased juror to sit on the jury;

3) whether the trial court issued confusing and misleading jury instructions and verdict forms; and

4) whether the jury’s completed verdict forms were inconsistent.

Regarding the expert witness claim, the Seventh Circuit determined the expert testimony was properly admitted because the trial court used the correct framework to admit expert testimony, the testimony satisfied the Federal Rules of Evidence, and it was relevant to case.

Regarding the biased juror claim, the Seventh Circuit stated the standard for disqualifying a juror is whether the juror holds a relevant prejudicial belief and whether they can suspend that prejudicial belief. Although the juror stated a belief that was possibly prejudicial, since the juror repeatedly stated they could suspend the belief, it was proper to let the juror remain.  

Regarding the jury instruction and forms claim, the Seventh Circuit reasoned the jury instructions correctly laid out the elements of a First Amendment challenge, and the verdict forms clearly indicated that only one of the two forms applied depending on how the jury ruled.

Regarding the verdict form inconsistency claim, the Seventh Circuit held that because this claim was not raised at trial, it could not be raised on appeal. 

Post Authored by Daniel Lev, Ancel Glink


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